Do holding companies believe in their creative brands? It would appear not, as evidenced by their latest moves.
Publicis Groupe has unveiled its latest reorganization, which divides Publicis Communications’ U.S. agencies, notably Saatchi & Saatchi, Leo Burnett and Publicis, into geographic zones. Each zone has a CEO who is in charge across agencies. For example, the current head of Publicis U.S. will now oversee the West Coast, including Saatchi in L.A. This structure diminishes further the job of the creative agency CEO.
In a prior announcement, Publicis had stripped its agency CEOs of their control of foreign offices by instituting Publicis One, with the head of the largest of the three agencies given control in the geography, while the heads of the smaller agencies were dismissed. As a further signal of diminished power, the communications hub that comprises the ad agencies and PR is only one of five on the executive committee.
This announcement follows on the heels of WPP’s decision to combine its digital firms with creative agencies. Thus, Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R became the brands serving clients, with all of the top jobs going to digital executives. This was a further recognition of the damage done by the horizontal strategy initiated by Martin Sorrell, with bespoke units serving single clients, such as Red Fuse for Colgate, by taking the best and brightest from all of the WPP firms.
These reorganizations fly in the face of the long-standing wisdom of the power of brand in marketing services. Saatchi & Saatchi was an edgy creative shop, Leo Burnett a strategic powerhouse with unmatched execution, Y&R the smartest firm with intellectual capital in Brand Asset Valuator. Employees came to work for Leo Burnett, not something called Publicis Groupe. The ultimate end game is a consolidation of brands, downsizing of workforce, decapitation of senior talent and a more commodity creative product in the guise of a laser-guided data missile. Holding companies are squeezing their ad agencies in order to pay for huge data marketing acquisitions (Publicis and Epsilon; IPG and Acxiom).
At Edelman, we are going in exactly the opposite direction and filling the void left by the seemingly inevitable devolution of the creative sector in the face of religious reliance on digital and analytics. We are best prepared to help brands that face significant challenges from start-ups and store brands and need to change the way they communicate with their consumers.
We are evolving our brand from public relations alone to communications, serving Chief Communications Officers and Chief Marketing Officers, helping them to Evolve, Promote and Protect corporate reputations and brands. We are now the House of Trust, with intellectual property that proves the importance of trust in brand purchase and that trust has become local and employer-based, with CEOs expected to step up on diversity, pay and training. We have embraced Earned Creative, ideas and solutions that are social by design, rooted in purpose, as fast as the news cycle and able to spark substantive change and dialogue.
We are knocking down the walls within our geographic units so that we serve clients with our best talent instead of maximizing profits in profit centers. We are integrating units such as UEG’s experiential and entertainment offering and adding a sophisticated Influencer capability to Edelman’s Brand and Digital practices. We are investing in data and analytics, to improve our insights and target the content generated by our Collaborative Journalism unit to supplement the shrinking mainstream media. And we are measuring trust in organizations as a key performance indicator via the Edelman Trust Management suite from Edelman Intelligence.
We are partners for clients who recognize that the best way to prosper against direct-to-consumer brands sold via e-commerce is to do something tangible, such as CVS removing cigarettes from retail outlets, REI closing its stores on Black Friday so employees can enjoy the outdoors, Gerber introducing the first-ever Gerber Baby with Down Syndrome or Johnson & Johnson creating an iconic short film inspiring Chinese parents to get eye exams for their kids.
At Edelman we are reinventing our business while keeping our promise to put our clients first. We remember Aristotle’s aphorism, “There is only one way to avoid criticism. Do nothing. Say nothing. And be nothing.” The pirate ship sails on its merry independent way.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.